I just saw two of the best movies that I will see all year. They are as different as can be; one is sentimental and quirky, the other lean and merciless.
Michael Mann's Public Enemies is the easily his best film since 1999's The Insider, and probably my favortie Micheal Mann film with the one possible exception being his debut film, Theif. Johnny Depp teams with Michael Mann to make a film that Dillinger would have loved: efficient, no bullshit, but stylish as hell. Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti have outdone themselves in creating a look to this film that is beautiful, but feels lived in like few period pieces ever do. The common themes that run through this film are vintage Mann: he lionizes the person who follows his own moral compass, right or wrong and despises those who force others to act against their morals and the individuals who allow their morals to be compromised. There is equal hatred in this film for Frank Nitti as their is for J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup in a brilliant cameo). And while Depp doesn't have too many "Oscar Reel" moments, his performance is a triumph. Depp understands that Dillinger spent most of his life playing a part, but we can never quite tell wether it is more of a mercenary move in order to hide among the public, or if he's doing it for the sheer unbridled fun of it. I didn't realize how much I loved this performance until I saw one of the film's final scenes that is full of tension and ends with a comment on a baseball game. I refuse to say more.
Away We Go is Sam Mendes fifth film and marks a major departure from his other work. It is the first that does not have cinematographers Conrad Hall (RIP) or Roger Deakins atttatched and also eschews Mendes typical Thomas Newman score for a indie folk heavy soundtrack. Whereas Revolutionary Road seemed a bit stale, this film is warm and fresh and bolstered by a lovely screenplay courtesy of real life literary supercouple David Eggers and Vendela Vida. The film aims for a very specific and complicated emotional tone and nails it. The cast is great, but you will leave the theatre talking about Maya Rudolph, whose performance would carry this film if it so needed. Her active listening, her total commitment to character will blow you away if you are looking. Of the slew of bit parts that wander in and out of the film, Allison Janney is the funniest, and Chris Messina the most touching. Rudolph and Krasinski together, however, might have accomplished the greatest feat in creating a couple that is believable despite the films intense scrutiny. There is never a moment of falsehood between them, and their relationship is one that you cannot help but root for.
I will discuss the mixed critical reaction to these films at a later time.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
Look for a new article on the three mainstream contenders currently in release
Away We Go
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Why do I even bother writing about anything when Salman Rushdie does it so much better.
"It used to be the case that western movies about India were about blonde women arriving there to find, almost at once, a maharajah to fall in love with, the supply of such maharajahs being apparently endless and specially provided for English or American blondes; or they were about European women accusing non-maharajah Indians of rape, perhaps because they were so indignant at having being approached by a non-maharajah; or they were about dashing white men galloping about the colonies firing pistols and unsheathing sabres, to varying effect. Now that sort of exoticism has lost its appeal; people want, instead, enough grit and violence to convince themselves that what they are seeing is authentic; but it's still tourism. If the earlier films were raj tourism, maharajah-tourism, then we, today, have slum tourism instead."
- Salman Rushdie
Monday, March 2, 2009
It looks like Madea Goes to Jail just topped the Jonas Brothers 3D Experience for the Box Office's top spot...
I'm speechless. Am I really just a grumpy old intolerant person for thinking Tyler Perry and the Jonas Brothers are all talentless hacks that don't deserve to be in a film, let alone kings of the B.O.?
Mr. Hornby would, I assume, call me out for being a snob and a member of the "liberal intelligentsia" because I am truly baffled. Summer can't come quickly enough.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
I don't disagree with what Nick Hornby says in defense of Slumdog, but rather what he implies. Just as he ripped apart another reviewer's implications and supposed motives, so shall I.
Those speaking against the film are not trying to prevent the film from being loved, nor are they insulting the filmmakers nor the actors. They're simply arguing that this film does not represent the best filmmaking of this year. My arguments against both Slumdog and Juno are more targeted toward their marketing. Juno was the lovable little "indie" movie with an "indie" soundtrack, and all sorts of other "indie" things that weren't quite "indie" enough to insult anyone's precious Middle-American sensibilities. Juno the film was fine, but the way it was packaged coated it with such a thick "indie" lacquer that covered up what was, at its heart, a very conventional story.
Slumdog Millionaire was a well-filmed, well meaning film that greatly disappointed me with a lazy ending. But the marketing invites people to express their fleeting concern for people in other countries while enjoying a familiar feeling story. (Bambi+Oliver Twist+every gangster movie/romantic comedy cliche = Slumdog Millionaire) It's a nice film with easy sentiments. These easy sentiments are highly commercial and just because they aren't "a licence to print money!" doesn't mean they aren't CHEAP and HOLLOW.
We aren't saying Slumdog Millionaire is an exercise in utter studio cynicism like "Epic Movie", we are saying that the public's reason for loving the film has little to do with the actual quality of the film. I'm not a member of the exclusive "liberal intelligentsia" for thinking that, nor am I somehow a snob because I don't love everything the Academy members deign to award every year.
Just as "Slumdog Millionaire" pushed the film industry by showing that a film with an unknown foreign cast can be successful (you just have to hype it up as the best film of all time), discerning viewers can hold out until the truly independent films that were made for art's sake and not for profit's sake; films that ask difficult questions and don't supply easy answers. I'm glad that mildly unconventional films like Slumdog, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and Sideways have found their way to the Oscar podium, but I'm waiting for the day when we find room for Hunger, Ballast, Gomorrah, and Let the Right One In. How about a day when documentaries and animated films can be considered not part of some sub-class with no chance at the big prize regardless of their quality. Or a day in which coming from seemingly childish source material makes you somehow not serious or exigent enough.
It's the self-congratulations associated with honoring a mildly unconventional film like Slumdog that drives me crazy. Slumdog was this year's token film in a year of deeply conventional, boring picks. Rather than patting yourselves on the back for honoring a film filled with poor brown people, you should watch a couple of more movies and stop fast-tracking this year's latest biopics, weepies, and holocaust dramas to the Oscar podium.
It's not Slumdog's fault, nor Danny Boyle's, and considering this year's unbearably weak slate of nominees I didn't care that Slumdog took the Oscar home. I hate the process, and the fact that so many deserving artists are left out in the cold. And perhaps there is a tendency to direct one's anger toward the one smaller film that does get recognition. The real hatred is toward the reason such a film was accepted by the general population. Slumdog wasn't loved because of its expert handling of multiple flashbacks (see Sorry, Wrong Number to see what a mess that can become) or its lovely cinematography. It was awarded because it made the viewers feel better about themselves. And as A. R. Rahman accepted his awards for his frankly pedestrian score and song, I imagined the voters giving themselves a mental award for being so open minded. And that self-congratulatory groupthink is what made my stomach turn.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
With each passing Oscar year, new precedents are set and old trends are followed. Here's a challenging question that corresponds to 5 winners.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE... is the first best picture winner to be set exclusively in Asia since the 1980s when there were THREE such films. Name the films
DANNY BOYLE.... is the first director winner from the UK for some time. Who was the last Best Director winner to hail from the UK?
SEAN PENN.... was the second straight prior winner to take home Best Actor. His closest competition was MICKEY ROURKE, who was previously not nominated (ditto perceived 3rd placer Frank Langella). Despite the perception that the oscars hand out consolation prizes to overdue actors, only TWO actors in the past fifteen years were prior nominees of an acting award, but had yet to win one. Name them.
KATE WINSLET... was considered supporting during the Golden Globes Ceremony, but ultimately won the Best Actress Oscar. This has happened before, but decades earlier. What actress, prior to Winslet, won the Best Actress Oscar despite being nominated for Supporting Actress for the Golden Globes
Best Original Screenplay
DUSTIN LANCE BLACK.... 's screenplay was considered original because it was not based on any biographical account or the famous documentary film on the subject. What script won an award for Original Screenplay despite being obviously based on famous and successful source material?
Monday, February 23, 2009
Bill Condon took over this year's Oscar telecast and for the most part did a good job of it. Whereas Roger Ebert is a bit too enthusiastic about the night, Nikki Finke is far too bitter and negative. Here's my take on what worked and what didn't
Hugh Jackman - Charming, funny, and versatile. He didn't wow me, but he proved an inviting presence and he fit this year's ceremony perfectly. Not everything he did was great, but the blame cannot lay with him. He gave it his all and put on a good show.
Steve Martin and Tina Fey - Probably the funniest presentation of any award I've ever seen. Classic lines and great comic chemistry. They should host next year.
Moving the Orchestra backstage - Made the show so much more intimate and sentimental. And really added to the acting awards change. Speaking of which...
The Presentation of the Acting Awards - I don't know if it's going to work every year, but I generally liked the appreciation expressed toward each nominee. It got a bit awkward when someone undeserving (Taraji P. Henson) had to sit through a muddled attempt to make their work seem important, but for the most part it was a nice touch. There was a downside which I will come to later.
The opening number (espescially the Frost/Nixon and The Reader bits) - The music was a bit uninspired, but Jackman and Hathaway's bit for Frost/Nixon was very funny ("Frank Langella was sitting right next to me") and the play on the fact that so few people have seen The Reader was very creatively done. The other bits were okay, but those two stood out.
The Awards Order - This was my favorite part, telling the story of how movies are made. Instead of the tried and true insincere encomiums offered to sound editors and art directors we see every year, they actually streamlined these awards into a very nice narrative that paid tribute to each category without being plodding. It lost its way halfway through, but it was a novel concept that paid off beautifully.
The Speeches - Condon et. al. had nothing to do with this, but all of the major speeches were very touching. Dustin Lance Black was the most memorable, but when Sean Penn can manage not to stick his foot in his mouth, it's a special night. The lone speech I genuinely didn't like was O'Connor's for Best Costume (seemed like an ungrateful prick). Anthony Dod Mantle came a close second with a rambling and awkwardly unfunny speech that was nonetheless harmless. When the worst speeches are for costume and cinematography, you're in good shape.
Some Great Random Moments - Man on Wire guy balancing an Oscar on his chin, Kate's dad whistling, "Domo Oregato Mr. Roboto", "Suck It Anthony Dod Mantle"
The nominees/winners - It's hard to root against them, but I still hold they are not the best films of this year by any stretch of the imagination.
The Frat Pack - Apatow, Rogan, and Stiller did not have good nights. Stiller's Joaquin Phoenix impersonation began funny but went on for too long. The Apatow film might have been funny in a different context, but did not fit with the energy of that night.
Baz Luhrman's "Musicals are Back!" number - This is coming from a person that saw Moulin Rouge! 4 times in the theatre: Luhrman needs to scale it back a little...okay a lot. This is not a criticism of Beyonce or Jackman, but the number didn't work simply because it was too convoluted. The Medley jumped around quicker than Thelma Schoonmaker's editing (www.imdb.com - look it up) from song to song providing little to no cohesion. And the broad declaration "THE MUSICAL IS BACK!" was not very convincing given the paucity of recent successful musicals. I don't care how much money they made, Mamma Mia! and HSM3 are not the films you want to promote in order to sell the general public on the musical. Given the state of Broadway, I'd me more apt to declare that the musical is dead.
NO CLIPS??!! - This was the lone setback of the Inside the Actor's Studio style of giving the actor awards. I like hearing Whoopi Goldberg praise Amy Adams, but i'd rather the audience get to see her actual work so they are more likely to see her film. Even if I've seen the films, I love to see the clips as a last second reminder of that actor's fine work.
Best Original Song - Wretched category this year and performed very well. John Legend did a better job than I thought he would with Gabriel's song, but the staging for it was bizzarre and the performance did not do justice to any of the three songs. M.I.A. and Peter Gabriel's abscences were greatly felt (not to mention should be nominees Bruce Springsteen and Jenny Lewis).
The Overall Concept - Okay... look, I was entertained by this year's oscar telecast, but let's be honest. It's the Oscar equivalent of naming Sarah Palin as your running mate. Hear me out... This telecast is trying to bring back "Old Hollywood Glamour" and had tons of song and dance numbers, Hugh Jackman as host... Nikki Finke isn't too far off in calling this the gayest oscars ever. It was. I, a straight male, enjoyed them but they were a little too fabulous. The problem with that is that it isn't going to attract new viewers. Nominating a well made film that made a Billion Dollars might, as well as nominating a deserving kids film. What movie hooked me on the Oscar's? Beauty and the Beast. I was 10 and I've watched every Oscar telecast since. Babe might have drawn in some other younguns in '95. I'm sure ET couldn't have hurt in '82...
And while I like sincere and emotional ceremonies as much as the next guy, I'd like to bring back some of the funny. Chris Rock and Jon Stewart might not have stroked the right egos, but they sure as hell made me laugh. Jackman was good, but I don't want the academy to think they can just put some pretty boy up there to entertain them, I like a little bit of ribbing. Once is enough for Hugh, as lovely as he was.
My choices for next year's host
1. Martin and Fey
2. Ricky Gervais
3. A Stewart/Colbert/Carell team